Strong winds fuel wildfires in New Mexico

SANTA FE, NM – High winds in northern New Mexico on Sunday once again posed a severe challenge to combat crews battling a large wildfire that grew significantly over the weekend.

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire east of Santa Fe, which started as two pre-merger fires a week ago, had burned nearly 104,000 acres, or more than 160 square miles, by Sunday, up from about 75,000 acres on Friday. Fire officials said it’s 30 percent contained, with smoke from those flames and another — the Cerro Pelado fire in Jimmy’s Springs, about 40 miles west of Santa Fe — penetrating most of the northern part of the state.

More than 1,000 firefighters worked to contain the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire. Officials said at public briefings that the spread of the fire from Friday to Saturday exceeded expectations. Wind speeds exceeded 65 mph at times, according to Mike Johnson, a fire information officer. On Sunday, winds of up to 45 mph were expected, and “severe fire” could occur over the next two days, according to the government website InciWeb that tracks bushfires.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries from the fire. State police reported two deaths in April from another bushfire.

Karl Schop, an area team leader that brings together firefighting resources from federal, state, local and other agencies, said Saturday that the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire “could easily double in size” before it is contained.

“We are still in a very serious fire situation. It will continue,” he said, adding that the winds have not stopped. “There is nothing in the weather that seems to change. High wind events, north wind events, south wind events. All this across the board. “

Mr. Schupe also urged residents to be alert for more eviction announcements, and on Sunday afternoon, residents in two areas in Mora County were ordered to leave immediately. according to mr. Johnson, about 6,000 people from 32 communities near Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, some in rural mountainous areas, were already under orders to leave.

Monica Aragon left her home in Lido, a small community northeast of Santa Fe, on April 22 and only returned once. She and her two children were staying with her parents in Chimayo, about 60 miles from her home.

On Friday, she said, she received a call from a volunteer firefighter describing the situation. He said he didn’t want her to panic, but the fire made its way into the road in front of her house. And she remembered the firefighters were “keeping the house away from your house.”

Because of the ongoing danger, county officials have been unable to provide a complete account of the number of buildings that have been destroyed or damaged. But Joy Ansley, the county director for San Miguel County, said that before the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire expanded Friday, it destroyed 200 buildings.

Roger Montoya, a representative of New Mexico, whose counties include three counties currently affected by the fires, spent time last week with a team delivering food and other supplies to residents who have not yet left. He said some were without electricity.

“There is a reluctance for people to leave their homes,” he said.

Samuel Coca, general manager of a bar at the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, said he has three cars full of property in case he and his family need to leave.

As the fire heated up on Friday, along with the number of people leaving their homes, its bar began serving free buffet-style dinners to firefighters and evacuees. He added that many people left the house with the clothes they were wearing and nothing else.

“Dozens of people I spoke to lost everything,” Koca said. They lost their homes, farms, and some livestock. It was hard to get through the afternoon without crying.”

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